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Black Friday from the other side: A retail perspective
you’ve got it bad sitting in line for four hours and throwing a few
elbows on Black Friday? Here’s what it looks like from the retail
employee’s perspective, and a few inside tips for those who want to
brave the storm.
The crowd is a singular being. What is so
striking is that the “mob mentality” exists on both sides of the fence:
they see themselves as part of some larger collective, and we too, view
them as a singular entity: some Lovecraftian horror slithering through
aisles, consuming all in its path.
We put products in thousands
of hands, answer questions from hundreds of mouths. Concepts of customer
service, held in high regard any other day, go out the window, purely
out of necessity. Today, you are not building individual relationships
or trying to solve customer’s problems. Today, you are trying to satiate
Which is why it is so shocking when a man grabs my arm,
and makes direct eye contact with me. On a day when our jobs
essentially boil down to assembly line handouts to whomever demands
them, this humanizing act is jarring. He yells over the din of the crowd
for a laptop we have not had for about an hour. I inform him of this,
and the way in which the news impacts him is visible in the contortions
of his face. I expect him to begin weeping, but I do not stick around to
find out. Any other day, he’d be a priority customer, someone I
would’ve bent over backwards to assist. Today, he’s another casualty.
of many I’ve seen over my years at one of the big-box meccas of
bargains. While customers spend hours in line sipping cocoa, snoozing
and chatting, we’re working overtime behind the scenes to make sure
things go smoothly. Here’s what D-Day looks like from the inside, and a
few tips if you should decide to throw yourself into the horde this
Preparing for war
In the days leading up to Black
Friday, we speak of it in hushed tones, with grizzled veterans
interjecting advice that would not be out of place on a battlefield:
“Don’t stop moving, act on instinct, and whatever you do, never allow a
customer to see the fear in your eyes.” All of which is fantastic advice
— when those doors open, consumers lose all concept of their superego.
It is not uncommon to be hammered with demands that barely qualify as
coherent sentences; in their violent, price-obsessed frenzy, people will
forget the use of articles (“I need television!”) or simply revert to
gestures to get their point across. May God have mercy on your soul if
you pause, even a moment, to formulate a response: they will tear you
Bring out the crazies
Certainly, filtered through
the eyes of the average retail associate, anyone who decides to wake up
that early in the morning and wait on line is insane. These are a
lawless people, they are monsters swarming a store at 4 a.m. in a scene
out of 28 Days Later or Dawn of the Dead. I once witness a grown man
soil himself in the middle of our television department. It took a
minute to register this, I had no sleep and was powered purely on energy
drinks, but it’s a perfect microcosm for the animalistic sensibilities
of a Black Friday crowd.
Formula for a mob
problem with Black Friday stems from the fact that no one really needs
to be there. Granted, on our end, we’re getting paid, and although I
can’t speak for everyone, most of us really don’t want to be waking up
at ungodly hours to come to work on a day everyone else has off. So it
comes down to the consumer: We’re here because consumers, en masse,
agreed to show up in the first place. It’s no secret that it’s the deals
that have brought you here. The problem is, with most of them, the
“deal” concept is a gross misnomer.
Putting tech out to pasture
very close attention to age of Black Friday sale items. In many cases,
they’re older models. These models may have been clearance prices
already. These are the only ones that, relatively speaking, may be worth
a wait on line. Granted, they’re older technology, but they’re being
severely discounted to make room for the shiny new devices. Unless
you’re a tech-nut who absolutely needs the latest gadget, you can
certainly find some good deals. Certainly, I don’t think that’s ever
been any big secret.
Watch the model numbers
smoke and mirrors can come in, are in the slight distinctions. You can
expect to find a lot of the retail powerhouses pull in subpar models
from big name manufacturers they normally wouldn’t carry; items that
don’t meet specific criteria but are certainly cheap enough to make it
seem like the laptop or GPS being sold is a good deal. Oftentimes, these
devices may be very similar to models already being carried; say, the
Generic Brand 50XA may be an item normally carried, and on Black Friday,
the 50XA1 is being sold for an unfathomable price. That may very well
be because that slight differentiator could mean a huge difference in
included features or quality of parts. Just because it’s a Samsung
television or an HP laptop does not mean it’s automatically of the same
quality as what you’d buy otherwise.
sales that I can guarantee where you are absolutely safe on Black Friday
are going to be the various forms of media: CDs, Blu ray players and
DVDs, and video games. There’s no “alternate models” or bootleg versions
being sold at major retailers (just make sure you don’t make your
purchases from the guy peddling a potpourri of titles spread over a
blanket outside the store). In that respect, there’s an obvious face
value associated with them, and you can immediately understand what you
are paying for. In every other respect, do some research in advance and
really weigh the value of your time versus the money being saved. It can
be hard to justify an entire night of waiting in sub-zero temperatures
to save $60 on a stack of Blu-ray discs.
bottom line, though, is that regardless of how much I say, or inform you
that you certainly will never find me out on any one of those lines,
people will absolutely show up for Black Friday sales. For some, their
time is worth the couple hundred dollars they’re saving; in fact,
perhaps this sale will allow them to afford all of their families
Christmas presents. For others, it isn’t about the savings—it’s the
tradition. There are those of you who bond with your family as you wait
in the dead (possibly cold, depending on your location) of night because
you are the Alpha shopper; this is as much a display of the power of
body as it is frugal shopping ability.
I can’t profess that I
ever intended to sway any of you, nor to pass judgment, simply to inform
you all that you are, in no small sense, completely insane.
This article first appeared in Digital Trends.
Comment by FreeSpiritMom44, posted 11/26/2010, 12:31 AM:
I bought my "Black Friday" deals online this year..also, if you wait until Cyber Monday they will be having even better deals to buy online. I purchased a PS3 and Move game for only $399 online. Beat the crowds and try shopping online.